Have you ever watched the Tour Down Under, the Tour de France, or any cycling race and thought what it would be like to be amongst them? To be riding side by side by other sweaty, gritted teeth riders pushing themselves to the absolute limit? You might even go a step further and want to know what the riders are thinking about or how they’re feeling. Either way, this might just be the book for you.
I suppose the same can be said for a lot of professional sports. I’m quite interested in most sports although I don’t play a lot myself. I enjoy them because of the intricate skills these people have that put them above others who play the same sport. What journey did they go on to get to where they are now? That might be the storyteller in me curious to know more about the people and their life story, but nonetheless it is something I think quite a few people might feel the same way about. The Rider by Tim Krabbé does exactly that—it puts you into the mind of a cyclist (Tim Krabbé himself) and answers the question about what it is that runs through their heads when they are riding.
A 150-page book detailing Tim Krabbé’s experience during the 150-kilometre Tour de Mont Aigoual, this short story really provides a fantastic insight into the mind of a rider. Not just any rider but a climber. The cyclists who drive themselves to absolute suffering by scaling small hills to high, high mountains. It’s written in their faces as they grit their teeth and push through the pain. It’s a battle of the mind, which is why this book is very interesting to read. This book is, from what I've heard, a 'must-read' for all cyclists out there. So, if you're a cyclist and you haven't read this book, then maybe you should give it a go!
I must admit, I was surprised by what I read. I quickly realised that really anything can go through a rider’s mind as they distract themselves from the suffering they put themselves through. I was also surprised with the level of communication throughout a race. What seems to be such an independent sport is really quite team-oriented. Yes, they’ll have their team colours on, but it’s one rider per bike (unless you’re going tandem, or course). Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, and this is also delved into in this book.
Really, a lot of things are explored. From life experiences of riding in different races and meeting other riders to general passing thoughts, both philosophical and simple. This makes this story really authentic and personal—one that made me feel connected to Tim in some weird author-reader but also passionate cyclist-passionate writer kind of way.
It seems weird for me to write and say this book put my passions into perspective since they have nothing to do with cycling, but that is exactly what it did. I think, no matter the activity, we all connect to each other based on the feeling of passion. This is enveloped in this story, which is shown in the constant suffering or the thought-provoking passages which continue to push you as well as the rider onwards on this journey.
And that’s exactly what this book is: a journey. We experience each kilometre. If we’re cycling savvy, we might even be able to picture the exact parts of the road race that are being described (I am not one of those people). We start feeling the same feelings as Tim does, like the worry as he cycles downhill.
It’s also interesting how beautifully crafted this book is by the way it emphasises when a rider is trying to distract themselves when they are suffering to when they need to concentrate on what they’re doing. We find ourselves transported into memories when the going is tough but not so much when something complicated is happening. This could be someone challenging the lead or, as mentioned before, cycling downhill.
Ultimately, this is a great book. However, I can understand if people don’t enjoy it. To a point, you need to be interested in the subject or sport as a whole. If you’re not, then you might not find it easy to read through. However, there are parts in this story which are thought-provoking and can be connected back to anything in life. Yes, it’s all cycling-focussed by that’s the point. With an open mind, you can start to form it to your own passions. A good example of this is in the below passage, which really struck me as I read it:
‘Why are we riding on? If you ask an alpinist why he climbs a mountain he’ll reply: “Because it’s there.”
As far as I know, no one has ever pointed out what nonsense that is. The alpinist’s will isn’t prompted by the mountain, it’s there even without a mountain. The alpinist’s will is not so petty that it needs something as random as the shape of the earth’s crust in order to exist. Even if the earth were as flat as a billiard ball, there would still be alpinists: the true alpinists. The true alpinist would actually be ashamed to have his will molded by things of an order as low as mountains. So only one question could rightly be asked of the true alpinist: why do you never climb mountains?’ -- Pg. 89
I don’t know about you but that passage made me think about why I am passionate about reading, writing and storytelling. Am I shaped by the books I read and the work I do, or am I shaped by my passion and drive in search of the next story?
Finally, I think one of the most interesting parts of this story is the end. I won’t spoil it. However, it’s not what you’d expect (unless you know your cycling history). It really hits home about, again, what we do with our passions and why we do what we do.
So, all-in-all, I would recommend it to most people. If you aren’t interested in cycling or sports, then maybe not! You could give it a try though!
Have you read The Rider by Tim Krabbé? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!
That’s it from me. Remember to ignite the story and I’ll see you again soon!
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.